HOUSTON -- Tony DeFrancesco had been waiting for this moment all of his life. So much so that when he was talking to the media Sunday morning at Minute Maid Park after being introduced as the Astros interim manager, his mind was on one thing.
"I can't wait until 1 o'clock today," he said.
After spending 17 years beating the bushes and managing in the Minor League ranks, DeFrancesco got the chance to bring out a lineup card as a Major League manager for the first time prior to the series finale against the D-backs at Minute Maid Park.
The Astros tabbed the 49-year-old to replace Brad Mills, who was dismissed late Saturday, along with hitting coach Mike Barnett and first base coach Bobby Meacham. DeFrancesco had posted a 67-60 record this year in his second season at Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he managed several of the players on Houston's current 25-man roster.
"I'm really excited to be here," he said. "I've waited a long time to come to this level and be on a Major League team as a manager."
DeFrancesco inherits a team in search of a spark. After losing a club-record 106 games last year, the Astros entered play Sunday at 39-82, which is the worst record in baseball. Those who know DeFrancesco said he won't accept losing.
"I wouldn't say he has any style, but I would say his biggest thing is his passion and his aggressiveness," said Astros infielder Brett Wallace, who's played for DeFrancesco in two organizations. "It will be an aggressive game, and he'll try to get the best out of us and motivate us whether it will be fiery or laid back. I think he can do both."
This season was DeFrancesco's 17th as a Minor League manager and his 26th season in baseball as a player, coach or manager.
Prior to joining Oklahoma City, DeFrancesco was with Triple-A Sacramento in Oakland's organization, where he managed seven seasons (2003-07, 2009-10), leading the River Cats to six first-place finishes in the Pacific Coast League Pacific Southern Division. DeFrancesco also has Major League coaching experience, having been the Athletics' third base coach in 2008.
"We tried to recruit him to St. Louis when he was there and every year he was in the playoffs," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "I feel like he's really ready to take that next step and he has a lot of familiarity with our players. Tony brings the exact capabilities for the remainder of the season."
Coming up in the Oakland system, it's not surprising DeFrancesco values pitching and defense, and stresses the importance of getting on base and being selective at the plate. He wants quality at-bats and players to work deep into counts.
"For me, defense and pitching is going to win a lot of games, and we have a young pitching staff, and our defense has been inconsistent, but we're going to work on that every day," he said. "We're going to put the best nine guys on the field and compete our butts off day in and day out for the next 41 games."
DeFrancesco understands he's taking over the youngest team in the Major Leagues, a team that's rebuilding and still trying to figure out which players on the roster fit and which don't. He knows there's going to be some growing pains.
"I know that it's hard for the fans here to understand the process we're going through, but today's the first day," he said. "I'm going to tell the players it's a new beginning. From now until the end of the season, we're going to see how good we can be. They're young. I know there's going to be mistakes, I know there's going to be inconsistencies, but the bottom line is we're going to go out and play as hard as we can every day. We're going to get better."
The fact DeFrancesco knows so many of the players, most of whom have come through Oklahoma City on their way to the big leagues, will make his job easier.
"I know every guy in that clubhouse," he said. "They played for me in Oklahoma City, they gave a great effort and I was the guy that was congratulating them when they came up to the Major Leagues. I hope I can pass what I did down there to have that success up here. I know there's going to be challenges. I'm new to the league."
The goal for DeFrancesco is to change the culture, get the players used to coming to the ballpark and expecting to win. That's easier said than done with a team that's rebuilding, but he believes things can be changed.
"No matter what happens, when you get your butt kicked daily, the players feel it," he said. "When you get your butt kicked on a daily basis, it's hard to open the door to the clubhouse the next day because you lack confidence, and hopefully with some of the new coaches here and myself, we can change the attitude and they want to come to the ballpark and have success. It was a dream for them to get to the Major leagues, and we want to see how long they can stay here."